An over-hyped food-theatre fail: Review of Gastronauts at Royal Court

In its current form, Gastronauts is an expensive show to make and at £30 a ticket, an expensive show to attend. So when the “theatre adventure with food and music” slides into a didactic, moralistic attempt at democratising food consumption it leaves an unpleasant aftertaste. Not just because of the shows own exclusivity, nor all the bells and whistles it takes to state a few simple facts you probably already know, but also because there are shamefully few moments in which those facts are delivered in a way that demands any introspection. It is however, for a while anyway, kind of fun.

We’re gathered in a colourfully lit room full of strangely-flavoured drinks that Alice in Wonderland-style, demand we drink them. We’re soon led through a curtain by a ’70s inspired musician/maître d’ and left in the care of four stewards who morph from wait-staff into an array of sketch characters, each with a point to prove about the way we think about food.

A waitress tops a cupcake with an excessive amount of frosting and drowns it in sprinkles before begging an audience member to eat it since she’s put so much effort into making it. A woman loses a child but bakes anyway because it’s important to commemorate. A man reminisces about  his grandmother’s lentil soup while a banker tells his date how to make money from sugar farmers he’ll never have to meet. But rather than delving into a reflective op-ed, these sketches simply dramatise the headlines we’ve seen for the last five years.

Between the sketches we’re served morsels to taste and think about. It’s only when we’re served a plate of insects by the very sad-faced sheep and cows we’ve farmed into extinction, that Gastronauts seems as clever as it should be. But generally this show builds itself up only to let its audience down.

The smell of loaves and spices hits us before a stream of readily available facts about nasty white bread and excess salt. Soup in polystyrene cups soon follows, as do savoury profiteroles and sweet open sandwiches. They might not be what you expect from their appearance but they’re nothing like the experimental food scene happening all over London. The mediocrity of the meal only serves to question why we get excited by the promise of hyped food as we do the promise of hyped shows like Gastronauts.

There is the possibility that this is all by design: that taking an audience into a room of colourful lights and adventurously flavoured drinks is a strategic way to tickle our theatrical expectations and play up to our notions of “quality.” But when the show ends with scenes from a food bank that tell us that we needn’t be nervous about the needy, they’re just people going through a hard time,  the full stench of Gastronauts self-congratulatory pomp and thoughtlessness hits home.

Gastronauts runs until 21st December at Royal Court Theatre. 

Image by Johan Persson

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